Abortion Shield Laws: A New War Between the States

Behind an unmarked door in a boxy brick building outside Boston, a quiet rebellion is taking place. Here, in a 7-by-12-foot room, abortion is being made available to thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

The patients do not have to travel here to terminate their pregnancies, and they do not have to wait weeks to receive abortion medication from overseas.

Instead, they are obtaining abortion pills prescribed by licensed Massachusetts providers, packaged in the little room and mailed from a nearby post office, arriving days later in Texas, Missouri and other states where abortion is largely outlawed.

This service and others like it are operating under novel laws enacted in a half-dozen states — Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York and California — that have sought to preserve abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in June 2022. The laws have been in use only since the summer and have not been tested in the courts, but they are already providing abortion access to tens of thousands of women in states with bans, especially low-income patients and others who cannot travel.

Called telemedicine abortion shield laws, they promise to protect doctors, nurse practitioners and midwives licensed in those six states who prescribe and send abortion pills to patients in the nearly two dozen states that ban or sharply restrict abortion.

The laws stipulate that officials and agencies of their states will not cooperate with another state’s efforts to investigate or penalize such providers — a stark departure from typical interstate practices of extraditing, honoring subpoenas and sharing information, legal experts on both sides of the abortion issue say. Many expect them to ultimately be challenged in federal court.

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